I've been drawing and painting digitally for quite a while. It's not new for me. I've used all the programs. I started coloring back in Photoshop 4. I wasn't the first in the space, and certainly many of my peers have far surpassed my skillset. Go check out people like Matt Rhodes, Becky Cloonan, Corey Lewis, or Matthew Woodson If you want to see some of my contemporaries who went off and did great things.
But I have used just about every program. On just about every device. Trying desperately to find what I have often described as "My Perfect Drawing Program". My work has given me the opportunity to make art on all kinds of devices and applications. I feel like this story needs a preface that makes clear, I'm not some fanboy on any side. I am an agnostic device user. I use an Android phone, and an iPad, and a Surface Book for a laptop, and an iMac for a work desktop. I have Raspberry Pi devices strewn throughout my house, and a Linux desktop for a home server. I just need you to understand that this is a bipartisan issue, ok?
I've made a previous article about this basic topic before. And most of that still applies today. I list off a bunch of devices, I list off a bunch of programs, and for the most part it's all still the same.
But one major thing has changed for me. Infinite Painter on Android is now also available on iPad, and it has pulled out far in front of every other program I've used. I want to take a second and describe my perfect drawing and painting program and rate Infinite Painter on all those features.
I need speed. I need your program to run fast, like the wind. Like Forrest Gump in front of a car breaking out of his little broke boy crutches.
Infinite Painter is buttery smooth on the Note 8, and on the iPad Pro. I can push it to the point of slowing down, but I have to try real hard to do it.
I need to be able to draw and paint at printable sizes.
Infinite Painter lets me set any arbitrary canvas size, save regular sizes for later, and it tells me more or less how making something at that size is going to affect my use of the program. A program can only go so big effectively, most artists understand that. But that should be more or less up to the user, not the program, unless the developer knows it will absolutely become unstable at certain numbers. But if I can make a one layer giant canvas, give me that option, and tell me if anything is changing.
I am a professional artist who wants to make professional works whether they look like sketches or paintings. Nothing makes me more frustrated than a developer who has a couple really great features, but holds back on others because their program is "just for sketching". So what do I mean by pro features?
- Selection Tools
- Lasso Selection Tool
- Straight Line Selection Tool
- Smart Selection Tool
- Free Transform of layers and selections
- Curves Color Manipulation
- Merge Layers
- Blending Modes
- Clear Layer
- Vector Tools
This isn't so much for me, as it is for the times. Kaleidescope and Symmetry drawing has uses in a lot of design and drawing. Having tools like these present is something that becomes more necessary once you realize how powerful they are.
Infinite Painter does have these tools as well as tile creation tools. Some are further along than others, but they are all at least present.
This is one of the bigger things that can make or break my use of a drawing program. I need clear and complex tools for creating and manipulating brushes.
Infinite Painter has something miraculous for brush creation. Curves for the amount of effect that pen pressure, tilt, and speed have on a brush and texture. Once you create a brush using these curves settings, you will be frustrated at the lack of control other systems give you.
- Custom Heads
- Custom Textures
- Color Mixing
- Clear indication of change effect on brush quality
- Clear indication of Texture settings changes
I need a palette that lets me easily swap tools, but doesn't get in my way. It's a delicate balance to strike. I need to be able to swap between standard tools (or even better a set of tools of my choosing) and set the settings of those tools independently. Some programs give you the ability to swap tools, but their settings are linked, or stuck.
My ideal program would have a tools palette that is completely customizable, able to be set anywhere in the window, and has ease of access to common manipulation options.
Infinite Painter's tools palette is fantastic. It's small. It has separate paint, eraser, and smudge tools docked into the palette. Each can be set to a separate brush, separate size, and have their own opacity and flow settings. The palette buttons can be clicked for fine control or scrubbed for instant manipulation. Each brush can be scrubbed to choose between favorite brushes quickly. The only thing that might be better would be to arbitrarily be able to choose the tools present in the palette, but the simplicity of these options is palpable. The palette can be docked anywhere, and naturally moves out of the way of other palettes when it needs to.
Color manipulation is an extremely necessary part of any painting program and process. Most programs these days have pretty excellent Swatch tools (except perhaps Photoshop), but not all of them allow you to dock a swatch palette onto the screen.
Infinite Painter gives a Swatch palette with savable swatches. Draggable colors within the swatch allow manipulation, not just creation. The swatch can be docked to the screen and dragged to access more colors.
Color picking is a necessary process of any painting program. The ease of this can either hinder or greatly improve the painting procedure of any artist. My perfect program can select color easily with a drag operation, and can choose to select only one pixel of color or a blend of a square.
Infinite Painter allows you to drag from the Tools palette color button to color pick onto the document. It also has a finger press to pen move option. I see a lot of programs doing a long press option these days, and I've actually begun liking that less and less. I think a drag from somewhere to pick is the right way to do it, however that might honestly be dependent on screen size whether that can begun to feel tedious.
Touch and Pen
Many artists want to use their fingers to do certain manipulation, and I get that, but it is a very physical way of working, and it is in many ways a vestigial technique from when artists learned to work before digital. In my perfect program, fingers and touch are for canvas manipulation, and the pen is for drawing. And this is where a lot of programs are just not up to snuff. Either there is no real consideration for touch, or it is slipshod and shoehorned in.
Touch should not draw, or it should be an option that can be turned off in settings.
But I work in a touch world, and once you've used touch to manipulate a canvas, you can't go back. Any modern drawing program should allow you to pan, scale, and rotate a canvas with two fingers. The process should be smooth and not limited to one option at a time, and once you do it, you realize how incredibly intuitive it is, and how much you were held back by the old methods.
I don't even want a keyboard when I'm drawing. A perfect drawing program should have everything available without the need of any keyboard shortcuts, even though I totally understand that they should still be there on desktop applications.
- CTRL Z? Give me history tools at a glance. Desktop size devices should have 3 finger scrub to go back through history (not 3 finger tap) and Infinite painter gives always on undo redo buttons and shows a history slider for a few seconds.
- ALT/OPTION? We already discussed color picking, and how it should be a drag out action.
- SPACEBAR? Two finger pan zoom and rotate.
- Tools? All those options should be on the Tools palette.
- Tool Size/Opacity? On the palette.
Get rid of the keyboard and a reliance on it. Touch devices should remove that necessity.
My perfect drawing program has a reference layer. This unique layer palette is set apart from the rest of the document and always gives a view to a reference image while drawing. This reference should be able to be cropped, pinned to anywhere, and rotated or zoomed as needed. Colors should be able to be chosen from this reference image, and it should move out of the way when drawing near it.
Infinite Painter ticks most of these boxes off, and the ability to simply turn on and off the reference is very nice.
Hiding the interface to allow a simpler drawing experience is nice. It's also extremely useful on mobile devices. But there should probably be levels of hiding. Hiding everything is nice sometimes, but hiding everything but the most basic tools seems like a more useful option.
Infinite Painter definitely lets you hide the main interface, while the only thing that stays will be your reference photo, and since you can switch tools with the secondary pen button click, you can still switch between erasing and drawing on phone. This mode should, however, only be thought of as a sketching mode.
Any modern drawing program should have the ability to record and playback a video of the drawing being created. It should be able to simply output to mp4. It should start recording from the beginning of any drawing, or at least have an option to opt out. I draw too many drawings to remember if this option is an opt in.
Infinite Painter allows you to choose whether you want to output as a stationary document of your drawing, or a rotating moving screengrab of the actual view of your interface while you were drawing.
Export and Import
Any program should be able to at least import any jpg or png. But they should probably also be able to do the same for PSD, TIFF, or PDF.
Infinite Painter can handle import and export of most standard formats, and saves to its own proprietary format. I would actually like it if it saved to a more standard normal format like TIFF.
If you've been searching for the perfect drawing or painting program, it actually doesn't exist yet. But I am of the opinion that Infinite Painter is the closest thing we have at the moment. If you haven't given it a chance on Android or iPad, you should. The initial program is free to try, and you'll only have to pay a reasonable sum to access its full potential.
There is an active community of users on Google Plus, and Sean Brakefield is actively developing both the Android and iOS versions of the application.